There’s a little-known battle raging on the state’s highways related to the calendar of horrific-to-travel days of the year — and last weekend, the stakes were raised.
For years, the Friday before Mother’s Day and the Friday before Columbus Day have vied for the honor of most-trafficked day of the year on Massachusetts’ toll roads. It’s become something of a tongue-in-cheek running joke within the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, where administrators take guesses on which day will win the honors each year.
In 2011, the Columbus Day Friday earned the top spot, garnering 692,000 toll transactions throughout the state, with the Mother’s Day Friday coming in second.
The next year, Mother’s Day Friday elbowed out the incumbent, nabbing the number one title with 703,000 transactions in one day, with Columbus Day’s antecedent coming in second.
This year, highway administrators waited with bated breath to learn which of the two days this year would earn the winning position — especially once this year’s Mother’s Day weekend had a lackluster traffic year, failing to best its 2012 performance.
Now that the numbers are in from Columbus Day weekend, MassDOT has discerned a winner.
The drum roll, please?
With 712,961 toll transactions in one day, Columbus Day Friday won out by a long shot, becoming the most-trafficked day on Massachusetts toll roads in recent years.
The tone from the ground zero of the toll transaction competition was decidedly less celebratory, where the feeling of being one of more than 700,000 trying to get through the gridlock was more despairing than triumphant.
“What is with this traffic on the Mass Pike?” Tweeted user @dan_goss711.
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME THE TRAFFIC ON THE PIKE RIGHT NOW IS RIDICULOUS,” wrote @kaaaylawaaayla,whose sentiment was repeated by @Multirandomable, who Tweeted, “Good lord the traffic today on the mass pike is awful.”
The gridlock perplexed some, like @pratty06011, who wondered, “Why is there mass pike traffic at 9 pm?”
And then there was @znsnow, who wrote, “I wish someone told me the entire Mass Pike was in bumper to bumper traffic. . . . I would have just walked home.”
Perhaps he will take solace in the fact that, in a small way, his personal ordeal was part of a larger purpose.
Tolls return on western stretch of Pike
Speaking of tolls, residents of the Berkshires were greeted with a not-so-pleasant development this week: Tuesday marked the return of tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike between Exits 1 and 6.
Those tolls were abolished seventeen years ago, when Governor William F. Weld decided that residents of the western part of the state deserved a reprieve after footing more than their fair share of the bill for the Big Dig.
Now, after state legislators voted to reinstate the tolls as part of their July transportation finance package, the fees are back — much to the chagrin of Western Massachusetts residents and out-of-towners accustomed to sailing through the first stretch of the Pike.
Going forward, it will cost cars $1.75 to travel the 51.3 miles from between Exit 1 in West Stockbridge to Exit 6 in Chicopee.
Legislators mandated that the money from these westernmost tolls will be used to make improvements on roads in the western part of the state. MassDOT has already begun tabulating the extra money coming in from the reinstated tolls: Last Tuesday, on the day the tolls premiered, cars exiting tolls 1 to 6 brought in $67,973.55 — $33,275.45 more than a Tuesday in October last year.
State House officials have estimated that the return of the tolls would bring in annual $12 million in revenue.Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.